Putnam County FCT campus expected to remain open

First Coast Technical College’s Putnam County campuses are expected to continue operating despite the college’s financial deterioration under the leadership of former president and Putnam resident Sandy Raburn-Fortner. 

First Coast Technical College’s board voted Tuesday to relinquish the college’s charter to its sponsor, St. Johns County School District. 

But before the vote, college board member and Putnam County Chamber of Commerce President Dana Jones asked, “What will happen in Putnam?”

“The intention is to continue with Putnam services,” said Frank Upchurch III, St. Johns County School District school board attorney. “Our people are in touch with Putnam County’s school board.”

Putnam County School District agreed last year to lease 1001 Husson Ave. to First Coast Technical College for $1 a year for 20 years in exchange for ongoing technical education opportunities for Putnam high school students. 

The state Legislature approved $2.1 million for renovations at the new campus over the last two years.

Putnam County Superintendent Phyllis Criswell said last month she intended to continue renovations and sustain a technical program at the Husson Avenue building with the cooperation of St. Johns County School District if the charter was revoked. 

First Coast Technical College also offers a welding program at its Barge Port campus in Putnam County.

The college board also voted Tuesday to accept Raburn-Fortner’s resignation, submitted last week, and to reinstate employees who were on paid leave during the college’s financial investigation.

The financial investigation was initiated by the St. Johns County School District in May, after officials suspected a deteriorating financial condition at the college. 

When the investigation began, the college board placed Raburn-Fortner, her daughter, Veronica Raburn, and college employee Christine Mills on paid administrative leave. At the time, Raburn-Fortner said, the employees were close to her and were placed on paid leave to maintain transparency throughout the investigation.

The board voted 5-1, with board member Declan Reiley opposing, to reinstate Mills and Raburn as employees. Upchurch said the financial investigation didn’t reveal any misconduct by either employee. 

Raburn-Fortner submitted a letter of resignation June 8 — the same day St. Johns County Superintendent Joseph Joyner released the findings of the financial investigation.  

Joyner said the investigation revealed misuse of in-house funds, failure to comply with federal wage reporting requirements, lack of internal controls and deficient administration of the purchasing card program. He said the college’s overall financial condition has further deteriorated to a state of financial emergency.

The college board voted 5-1 Tuesday to accept Raburn-Fortner’s resignation, but only if she waives her rights to compensation and claims against the college. If Raburn-Fortner disputed the board’s terms, board members agreed, she would be terminated. 

First Coast Technical College attorney Brandon Beardsley said Raburn-Fortner requested she be paid for the paid leave she accrued during her time at the college. 

“Paid time off is not to serve as a parting gift,” Reiley said. 

“She resigned before we heard the accusations,” college board member John Browning said. “To accept (Raburn-Fortner’s resignation) is gracious on our terms. … She’s been accused of a lot of things, any one of which would have got her fired.”

Beardsley said it would be “an accounting nightmare” to determine how much Raburn-Fortner would be paid for accrued paid leave.

“Ultimately, it will be the (St. Johns County) school board who will have to write this check,” Upchurch added. 

The only college board member who opposed the terms of Raburn-Fortner’s resignation was Jones. She asked attorneys to find a “compromise” for Raburn-Fortner’s request for payment. 

Raburn-Fortner is listed as chair-elect for the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce. 

While the financial investigation is complete, Beardsley said, a human resources investigation at the college was ongoing. 

The college’s interim president is Renee Stauffacher.

Palatka Daily News

1825 St. Johns Ave.
Palatka, FL 32177
(386) 312-5200

 

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